In the midst of heavier capital expenditures, rising demand, a mad race to hire tech talent in low supply and the alarm bells of economic turmoil going off in the United States, companies have grown interested in low-code and no-code development platforms as an engine that will help them navigate stormy waters.
Nevertheless, they should be keenly aware of two things: 1) they’ll still have to fight to stay afloat; and 2) even when their extra engine runs smoothly, the storm remains.
Over the last couple years, low-code and no-code platforms have emerged as a saving grace for companies in need of developing applications and other software-based solutions fast and cheap. Low-code requires very little programming knowledge, while no-code allows for software development without the need to write a single line of code.
Both use graphic user interfaces (GUI) which allow most people to build simple pieces of software, in a way that’s not much different from drag-and-drop web design platforms. Some options in the market allow for the development of apps in general (like Aptugo and Bubble), while others focus on more complex solutions like process automation (Asana) and AI-based apps (DatRobot).
“[Low-code] lets you take these programmers, which are in low supply, and multiply their productivity by 10 or even a 100 times”—Alex Robbio
IT service providers are already looking high and low for software engineers that allow them to capitalize on the rocketing demand. Baja California’s ITJuana, for example, expanded its criteria for talent selection, casting a net wide enough to catch engineers from disciplines beyond computer sciences, according to Martiza Díaz, the company’s CEO. Electrical, mechatronic and other engineers will do, as long as they can be taught to translate their problem-solving capabilities to code.
Austin-based Simpat Tech has been giving low-code/no-code a try with a competency program that’s been running for over a year and a half.
“It’s not one-size fits all technology, but it lets that talent get experience working with customers, talking to customers, learning how to architect code”, said Ashish Patel, Founder and CEO at Simpat Tech, during a panel at this year’s Nexus conference. “Then we can train them into being in larger projects. We’re really embracing the low-code/no-code, specifically around power platforms.”
Low-code’s main appeal, though, relies on what it allows experienced developers to do, according to Alex Robbio, co-Founder and CEO at Prontomas, and a self-described low-code enthusiast. With their hands free from menial tasks, they can focus on the core issues and increase their productivity manyfold.
“Low-code has that potential. It lets you take these programmers, which are in low supply, and multiply their productivity by 10 or even a 100 times”, said Robbio in an interview. “If Accounting needs a solution, instead of bothering your IT department with it, distracting them from core problems with small-time issues, low code can help with that.”
A Versatile Tool, Not a Master Key
In spite of being a nifty solution in these times of high demand for services and low supply of talent, low-code and no-code platforms cannot be viewed as all-purpose problem solvers, and definitely not as a replacement for experienced developers in your team.
Low-code/no-code platforms offer companies fast and cheap software development, but there are trade-offs. These sorts of platforms rarely allow for smooth system integration or upgrading without the invertantion of more skilled programmers, which translates into a lower level of flexibility that even the platforms themselves will tell you about.
“In theory, any user can turn into an app generator if the tool is well constructed. Nevertheless, greater [programming] knowledge will have a bigger impact and result in higher quality solutions,” explained Robbio.
There are other problems that come with overreliance on so-called “citizen developers”. Cybersecurity is a major concern when it comes to low-code/no-code development, according to a report by Deloitte. Given that this is a high-sensitivity issue, citizen developers often require training on security, data protection and other aspects of software development, like version control and systems integration, which in turn require company time and resources.
Also, their products don’t tend to scale well, which turns into quite the hurdle when turning the software over to IT. For this reason, Chris Johanessen –Chief Digital Strategist at Axis Group– and Tom Davenport –professor of IT and Management at Babson College– recommend a hybrid development model in which the low-coders develop about 80% of the product, which is then turned over to more experienced developers for polishing.
Both experts recognize that low-code/no-code “isn’t a panacea, but it can address some of these resource shortages.”
Still Responsible, With or Without Low-Code
“I don’t think this is a long term solution,” Alex Robbio pointed out, in spite of his overall enthusiasm for low-code.
The truth is that companies face a rough landscape when it comes to costs and talent availability. With technological transformation becoming more of a priority for businesses, the demand for software engineers will grow even higher, and wage expectations will rise with the tide.
“I don’t think this is a long term solution”—Alex Robbio
Low-code/no-code might provide a patch that allows firms to deal with minor software needs, but it won’t free them from requiring experienced developers who can build complex solutions from scratch.
For Robbio, it all comes down to how much companies are willing to invest in the development of talent in-house instead of hiring ready-made engineers from someplace else.
“It’s a cowardly thing,” he said. “I think we, as entrepreneurs and beneficiaries [of government programs and universities], should invest in shaping our own people. I hope that we realize that we should invest in training, that we should hire with potential in mind instead of only knowledge.”